Tuesday, 9 January 2018

9 January, 1594 - Abraham and Lot

Here's what the Earl of Sussex's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: R at abrame & lotte the 9 of Jenewarye 1593 ... lijs 

In modern English: Received at Abraham and Lot, 9th January, 1594 ... 52 shillings

Today, Sussex's Men introduced another of their plays to the Rose audience. Abraham and Lot is now lost, but it was clearly a Biblical drama about the characters from the Book of Genesis.

Abraham is of course a major figure in the Old Testament, and his life contained many incidents worthy of dramatic re-enactment. But if we assume that the play focused on his relationship with Lot, we can speculate on the play's likely plot. The following expands on Martin Wiggins' hypothetical reconstruction in his Catalogue of British Drama. 

Abraham and Lot going their separate ways,
from Wenceslas Hollar's Illustrations of Genesis
The play may have begun with Abraham and his nephew Lot pasturing their cattle together. The two are forced to separate because the land cannot hold their large herds, so Lot parts with Abraham and settles in a fertile place near the city of Sodom. But the Sodomites turn out to be an evil people (Genesis 13.5-13).

Abraham rescuing Lot from the Elamites,
etching by Antonio Tempesta (1613)
War then breaks out between the kingdom of Elam and various cities, including Sodom. During the war, Lot is taken captive. When he hears of this, Abraham raises an army and attacks the Elamites, rescuing Lot and his household (14.12-16). The Sodomites offer him a reward for his service, but Abraham virtuously refuses: "I will not take of all that is thine so much as a thread for shoe-latchet, lest thou shouldest say, 'I have made Abram rich'" (14.32).

Lot returns home to Sodom. But later, Abraham learns that God intends to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because they are full of sinners (ch.18). Two angels visit Lot's house to warn him. Not knowing who they are, he hospitably invites them in for bread. But the men of Sodom gather outside Lot's house demanding that he send the visitors out so that they can "know" them. Lot refuses, and offers them his virgin daughters instead (yes, this is getting kinda disturbing, but don't blame me, I didn't write it). That's not good enough for the Sodomites who advance on the door. The angels therefore blind the men, preventing them from finding the door (19.2-11).

Lot's wife looks back at the destruction\
of Sodom and Gomorrah; from a
mosaic in Monreale Catheral, Italy
The angels tell Lot that Sodom and Gomorrah will be destroyed, and they lead him and his family to safety. They warn them not to look back as they do so, but Lot's wife does, and is turned into a pillar of salt (19.15-26).

Perhaps the play also included the eyebrow-raising sequence in which Lot and his family end up living in a cave in the mountains. The daughters want children, and since there aren't any men around, they get Lot drunk and have sex with him, and end up giving birth to sons who found great dynasties (19:30-36). Again, don't blame me.

As you can see, there is a lot of dramatic potential in the story of Abraham and Lot, and it makes one wonder how such things as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or the pillar of salt might have been staged. Some of the material about Lot's daughters raises questions though, to put it mildly, and I suspect that the players might have skipped over it.

Whatever the players did with this story, it was much more successful at the Rose than some of the other performances of late, receiving 52 shillings, which represents a very large crowd.

Further reading

Abraham and Lot information

  • Genesis 13-24. (Quotations are from the 1587 'Bishop's Bible' translation.)
  • Rosyln L. Knutson and June Schlueter, "Abraham and Lot", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 795.

Henslowe links


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!


  1. Middle paragraph: "angels visit Lot's house to *warn him."
    Thanks for keeping up the blog. Great as usual.

  2. Yikes, thanks for spotting that! 'Warm him' was an amusing image, but perhaps not the point.